'I Haven’t Been Back in the U.S. Since Trump Became President. I Don't Have a Home'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: What it's like spending months and years on the road, according to a nomadic American teacher and two Indian oil tanker engineers

Liat Elkayam
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Michael Crider.
Michael Crider.Credit: Meged Gozani
Liat Elkayam

Michael Crider, 31, nomad, arriving from Istanbul

Hello, can I ask you about your “address”?

Haaretz Weekly Episode 51

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I lived and worked in Brazil for the past two years. I left in June and I’ve been traveling since then. I think it will be two more years before I’ll have to work again. I’m a teacher, so I can only get a job at the beginning of the school year. Since I want to do the Appalachian Trail in North America, which is something like 3,500 kilometers [2,175 miles] long and can only be done between April and August, I don’t think I’ll finish in time to start teaching next year.

What do you teach?

In Brazil I was a homeroom teacher for the fifth grade, so I taught subjects. Before that I taught for three years in a public school in Colorado. A quarter of the pupils were African Americans and the rest Latinos. It was a very poor neighborhood, really tough to see.

At least it sounds interesting, and important.

I grew up in a very white, homogeneous community, and there was lots I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t know about before I taught there. I encountered a lot more violence, but that may be partly a generational thing, because in my time there weren’t, for example, emergency drills in school in case of a mass shooting – but when I was a teacher there were. It was really weird.

But sometimes you have to leave your comfort zone, look straight into the mirror and understand that you never earned some of the things you have received in your lifetime, certainly not with your own two hands.

I have a Canadian friend whose favorite expression is “I come from privilege.”

I am a white, American, healthy man, and for a lot of people who aren’t all those things, it’s harder. The American dream talks about “earning it,” which is a right and a possibility, but probably if I were black I would have to work double and still not get the same possibilities.

How do you get along with Trump?

I haven’t been back in the United States since he became president.

So you escaped to Brazil?

After teaching in Colorado, I got a scholarship to do a master’s degree in education from an international perspective. I saved up money and went to Europe, but in the end I found a job in Brazil, at an international school. It was a radical change compared to the poor children, some of them homeless, whom I taught in the U.S. In Brazil I taught children from very rich families; at first I thought their lives were better than those of my poor pupils, but these kids also had problems, just different ones.

Like, there were a lot of kids with a very old father who married a far younger woman and didn’t spend much time with his kids. Those children also spent more time after school in all kinds of activities, and less with the family. A lot of times the poor children, who had to learn how to be independent from a young age, were very creative and could solve problems in, say, science, quickly, while many times the kids from the rich families waited for instructions.

Why did you leave?

Rough things happened. I had a good friend who went to jail, I was very sick, there was a parent who was very manipulative with me, and a mother sued me because she thought I let her son fail, even though it was actually a different teacher.

Wow. So what now?

In another 10 days I’ll be in Bali, and then I plan to travel for a month in New Zealand with my mother. It should be interesting, I haven’t seen her for a year and a half, and I miss her very much.

And maybe also home?

I don’t have a home at the moment, and traveling so much really can be tiring. In the end, I want to think about a house, but I try to let things happen and learn from them and keep going. At the moment there’s nothing I can do about it.

Minal Doshi and Davinder Singh.Credit: Meged Gozani

Minal Doshi, 30, lives near Mumbai, and Davinder Singh, 34, lives in Delhi, India; flying to Istanbul

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

Minal: We work on oil tankers. The ship anchored in Ashkelon, a crew arrived to replace us, and now we’re heading home.

How long were you at sea?

Minal: This voyage lasted three months and 10 days, but I’ve been on voyages of eight months, too.

Davinder: In most cases the trips last somewhere between two and three months. But there are people who stay aboard for the journey back, too. It also depends on you, on when you want to get back.

Where were you?

Minal: All over the world: Europe, the United States, Russia, China, Brazil.

A ship filled with oil – sounds a bit scary.

Minal: Yes, the oil is flammable, so almost everything we do is dangerous to some extent, but for that we get an extra risk payment, and there are special safety mechanisms. There is no oxygen in the tank, so it won’t explode. We make sure the work is not done under pressure, stick to eight-hour shifts and rest and take lunch breaks; the conditions are good. It’s dangerous not only because of the oil, but because we are often in the middle of the ocean and there is no doctor on board, for example. If something happens, we deal with it ourselves. When you go to sea you need to be careful and not take risks.

Sounds tough.

Minal: People who work at sea have to be mentally stable and strong. They also have to be very honest, because every little mistake or unexpected change could cause chaos.

What are your jobs?

Minal: We are engineers. There are usually two departments on a ship – deck and engine – and our responsibility is for the functioning of the engine and for keeping the systems working properly 24 hours a day. The ship generates its own electricity and produces its own water, and we have to make sure that these things are working.

How did you get into this profession?

Davinder: I am a third-generation sailor in my family. My grandfather and my father served in the Indian navy, my grandfather was even a captain. I heard a lot of stories and I saw pictures, and always wanted to be a sailor myself.

Minal: For me it was mainly to earn a good salary and to travel.

Do you ever really get to be tourists?

Davinder: It depends on the contract. Sometimes we spend a little time in the country we anchor in, but usually we leave the ship in the morning and are already flying home in the evening. I want to go home anyway, I miss my family.

Minal: I used to like staying and sightseeing, but now I am married, so it’s more complicated.

What’s the most beautiful place you’ve been to?

Minal: In Scotland, a place called Sullom Voe. The ship sailed through a passage where, on one side, it is very green and on the other there is a high mountain with a snow-capped peak. People don’t actually live there, there is practically no one there – it’s just a kind of transit terminal. But it’s very beautiful. We stopped in a hut where you could get bread and cheese.

Sounds great.

Minal: I always prefer to leave the ship, even for a very short time. Davinder likes to stay in the cabin and relax.


Davinder: I only like India, my home. If I get off the ship, I get sad and miss home.

Isn’t there Skype or something that lets you stay in touch with the family while you’re at sea?

Minal: You can hook up to the internet, but it’s expensive, something like $10 for 25 megabytes.

Davinder: I am very happy to get home again. I fly to Delhi and am very emotional. My wife is waiting for me, she is in her last month of pregnancy and I am stressed out; she wanted me to come back before. I don’t know what is going through her head these days. We are a bit trapped in this work, it’s hard to stop.